CategoryCoupons

My $.88 turkey

A long time ago, you could go on the Jenni-o turkey website and request a $5 coupon. I did, but never had a chance to use the coupon after it arrived. It stayed in my purse, but I’d pretty much forgotten about it.

Until this week. Walmart had their Jennie-o turkeys on sale for $.40 a pound, so I went to buy one (after buying one at Aldi earlier for $.99/lb – wish I would’ve known about the Walmart sale then!). After the coupon, a 14-pound turkey cost me only $.88. I ended up buying two turkeys, and got twice the amount of turkey for literally half the price I paid for one at Aldi. It was interesting trying to find room in the freezer for another turkey, but I wasn’t about to resist them at that price.

The other one is in our frig, thawing. It’ll probably need to be cooked before Thanksgiving, but that’s ok since we’re going to Stephen’s grandma’s for the day anyway.

Coupons 101 – Ethics

There is one more thing about coupons that isn’t necessarily a “how-to,” but more of a reminder. Ethics and doing what is right.

When a store has a super sale going on, and you can get things for really cheap or even free, go ahead and take advantage of it. Buy what you can and put some back for later. Most sales go in cycles, but it could be quite a while before you see a price like that on an item again. If it’s not something perishable (toiletries come to mind here), then put it away for later when you need it.

Most of the places I’ve seen call it stockpiling. The goal is to have enough in your stockpile so that you don’t ever have to pay full price for an item. By buying extra when an item is on sale, you can go for longer periods of time before buying more. It’s nice to avoid paying full retail price for something when you know you can get it for whatever your target price is.

One of the things for me is toothpaste. Stephen prefers one brand, and it happens to be a brand I can get for free with coupons. There is enough stored at our house that I shouldn’t ever just have to run to the store to buy more and actually pay out of pocket for it. That’s not been by buying a lot at any one time – just by getting 2-3 tubes when they’re free with coupons. When I notice the number of tubes on my shelf is getting low, I start looking for more sales to get more free tubes. You can do this with quite a few things.

A person’s stockpile is limited by one main thing – storage space. We don’t have a lot of extra storage room in our house, so I try to be careful with how much I bring home to stockpile. Some say that a good rule of thumb is a year – keep a year’s worth of any one item in the house so you can always get it at rock-bottom price. For our house, that’s just not practical. For others, it is.

There’s one thing I want to caution you about with stockpiling though. It actually applies to couponing in general, not just stockpiling. It’s greed. Don’t just buy items because they’re free. Just because you can buy 40 bottles of window cleaner at once, doesn’t mean you should. If you really need the cleaner, then yes, buy it. But don’t just get it because it’s cheap and you have a ton of coupons. If you buy so much that you end up having to throw some away after a while, you’ve bought too much. Be careful that your stockpiling doesn’t become hoarding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage stockpiling at all. It’s the mindset behind the stockpile and the tendency for greed that is the problem. It’s a heart matter. Some people will have bigger stockpiles than others. No problems there. But when the stockpile is built because of greed, there is the problem.

Also, be considerate when you coupon. Please be mindful of others who are doing it because they need to. There are people who may be depending on those deals to stretch their grocery budget enough to afford everything on the list. If you buy a bunch, just because you can, you may be depriving others of getting what they need.

That is something I’ve seen repeatedly during the triple coupon promotions around here. My store’s policy is that there’s a limit of 3 like items per customer, so people get around it by going multiple times a day or sending other people in their family to go get more. Unfortunately, by doing that, they clean the shelves of the really good items, leaving very little for others.

I don’t say that as a guilt trip – just as a reminder to be considerate. People so easily get caught up in “I bought 347 boxes of cereal for only $2 today and they had to clean out the back of the store for me to get them! What a deal!” Yet somehow they don’t realize how that can affect others when they’re just being greedy.

Another thing to be mindful of is store policies. If the limit is 3 of an item, then stop at three. Don’t try to go back into the store 14 more times that same day just to get more. The store employees know who is abusing the system, and the stores that double or even triple coupons can easily stop those promotions. I’d hate to be the one that the store manager dreads seeing every time I walk through the door! Please follow the rules, so that everyone else doesn’t have to suffer when stores tighten the rules about couponing.

Coupons 101 – Know your prices

One of the next steps to couponing is knowing your prices. I think that is one of the more time-consuming (at first) parts of couponing. It’s not impossible, but can be a challenge sometimes.

What it boils down to is knowing what your absolute lowest price is for an item. A coupon does you no good if you can go elsewhere and get an identical (or sometimes better) item for the same or lower price.

This is where having a price book is an incredible help. You can read my post about price books here.

Some people can manage to keep a running mental list of how much they’ll pay for each item. I’m not that good at keeping track very well that way. Everything goes into the HandyShopper program in my Palm. From there, I can find any information that I need.

Knowing the price per unit (per ounce, pound, gallon, per roll of tp, etc) will be the most helpful. At first glance, a bottle of laundry detergent may seem to be a better deal than the one you usually buy, but once you look at the unit price, you may discover otherwise.

To find the unit price, take the total price and divide it by the number of items/units in the package.

For example, if a 12-roll pack of toilet paper costs $7.99, just divide that $7.99 by 12. That gives you the unit price of $.6658 per roll. You could then round up that to $.67 a roll. This is helpful when a different size package than you usually buy goes on sale. By comparing the price per roll, you can see at a glance whether it’s a good deal or not.

After you know your basic prices, you can then add in coupons. Sometimes you can get a generic product cheaper than a name brand product bought with a coupon. On the other hand, some stores have really good sales. By buying sale items and using coupons with the sale price, that’s often when you can get name brand items at low, low prices or even for free.

Many stores now have their sale ads online. Some are easier to use than others, but most of the major chain grocers around her do have them available. That’s a good way to do some checking ahead of time, especially if you don’t get that flyer in the mail. They also often offer some sort of “specials by email” program. Right now I get email specials from 4 different area stores.

This is something that I’m still working on though. I live right on the NC/SC state line, so don’t get most stores’ sales ads for the NC grocery stores I shop at. I often forget to check those stores’ ads online – even though I know I could get some really good deals by doing so.

Once you have a good handle on regular prices, you’ll be able to establish what your threshold prices are. A friend of mine won’t buy cereal unless she can get it for under $.75 a box. Eventually you get to the point where you know when it’s time to just buy one or two items to get you to the next sale, or start stockpiling because it’s the best sale you’ve seen in a long time.

It can be time consuming, and is definitely a learning process. But knowing your prices is certainly worth it!

Price Books

I’m going to interrupt my coupon series here to blog a little about a price book. It’s not absolutely vital to couponing, but it is such a HUGE help that I wanted to include it at this point. A price book is valuable whether or not you use coupons though – so hopefully this post will be a help to someone.

A price book is some sort of document or book that contains current prices for items that you normally buy – at each store you shop at. You can see at a glance where it’s cheaper to buy something. For instance, sugar might almost always be cheaper at Aldi, but it’s on sale this week for less at a different grocery store instead of Aldi.

You can do them digitally or on paper. I’ve done several different ways.

The simplest way is probably a blank notebook. A lot of places say to give each item one page, but I never needed that much space for any one item. Half a page would probably be plenty. You write the item at the top of the page, and then write down the brand, price, size of object (like 5 lb package, 12 oz, etc), the store it’s at, and the date. The reason you put the date is so you can start to learn sales cycles and so you can see if a price may be outdated or not.

I’ve tried typing a master list and then printing it and putting it into a 3-ring binder. It worked ok for a while, when I kept up with it. I even tried keeping the master list on my hard drive, but didn’t keep up with that very well either. I’d forget a few times. . .and I found I didn’t do a very good job keeping up with them at all.

Then when my husband got a new PDA for work, he gave me his old one. I was looking for other software online for it, and came across a program called HandyShopper. It’s only for Palm OS at the moment. It’s a list maker and price book all in one, and it has completely changed how I do my price book. Now, when I mark items on my shopping list, it gives me a total based on the prices that I have in the database. I can see how much things should cost before I even get to the store. Not only that, I can select a specific store and see exactly how much I can expect to spend at each specific store. For a tiny little freeware program, it has helped immensely.

The HandyShopper database also transfers easily from one device to another. When I upgraded to a newer Palm, I worried that it would be difficult to transfer the data over. It ended up being pretty easy, and was a huge relief that I didn’t have to rebuild the database!

I’ve tried to create price book documents for people to download, but haven’t been able to come up with one that I am truly happy with. Maybe that’s because they don’t work the best for me – I don’t know. If there is enough interest in the documents, I’ll consider putting them up online to download.

Coupons 101 – Organizing

This is Part 2 of my coupon series. You can read the first part Coupons 101 – Getting Coupons here.

The next thing you’ll need is a way to organize the coupons. I use a 3-ring binder. It’s nice and portable, and can be customized to whatever extent that you like. You can view my coupon binder here. My friends Tammy and Annie use boxes for theirs. Some people don’t even clip their coupons ahead of time – they file the inserts by date and look coupons up that way.

There are several ways to organize the coupons. Some do it alphabetically (Scott toilet paper under S), some do it by category (all toilet paper coupons under paper goods or toilet paper or bathroom or whatever). I tried alphabetically, but it didn’t work well for me. By category works better for me because I can compare prices between brands easier – especially if it’s between brands I don’t usually buy. The important thing is that you find a system that works for you. I’m to the point right now where I actually need to subdivide my categories more. Some of my categories are too broad and things need to be broken down further.

It really doesn’t matter how you start. All you need is a way to know what coupons you have so you’re not flipping through fistfuls of coupons in the store. For me, that’s a notebook. For others, it’s a box. Whatever works for YOU is important. Otherwise you won’t use it and it ends up being a waste.

You’ll also need some sort of system for taking coupons into the store. Will you carry your binder or box (or bag, etc) into the store every trip? I do bring my binder, but when I have specific coupons to use, I use a two envelope system. All the coupons I want to use on a specific trip go into a business-size envelope. As I put each item into my cart, I take the corresponding coupon and put it into a letter envelope that’s inside the larger envelope. That way I can see exactly how many coupons I’m using and what I may have forgotten. This works especially well if your store limits the number of coupons you use. Harris Teeter around here will periodically triple coupons, but only 20 per customer per day. Using the two envelopes helps me stick to the 20-coupon limit without any surprises at the checkout lane.

Another thing to consider is the expiration date. Each of the pages in my binder has three pockets in it. The bottom two pockets I use to organize coupons. The top pocket gets all the coupons in that category that will expire that month or early next month. It makes it a lot easier to toss expired coupons. It also helps you use older coupons before newer ones, especially if they’re for the same amount. Even if you don’t file your expiring soon coupons separately, you will need to go through your coupons periodically to weed out expired ones.

Coupons 101 – Getting coupons

There are probably hundreds of “how to coupon” posts around the web, as well as entire blogs, websites, and forums dedicated to the subject. Since it’s something that saves me a good bit of money, I figured I’d blog a bit about it here as well. This post has gotten longer and longer, so I’ll post it as part of a series. Who knows how long the series will get.

One of the first things you’ll need to get started is a source of coupons. You could have the paper delivered for coupons, or stop somewhere on Sundays and pick up a paper just for coupons. Another option is to have people save you their coupons. There’s also a gas station by my house where a man comes every Sunday just to read the paper – when he’s done, he leaves the paper behind. The cashier there has told me she’s willing to save those coupons for me. Of course, I just never remember to get them!

The bulk of my coupons come from my father-in-law. He saves me the coupons from their paper, but he also works at a restaurant. He often stops by on Sundays to pick up the paper there after it’s been read, and passes those coupons on to me as well.

The rest of the coupons I use are mostly ordered from a coupon clipping service. I personally prefer eBay, simply because I can do all the searching from one website. You can order coupons in lots (as in “Lot of 75 baby-related coupons”) or in multiples of coupons (search by typing something like “Folgers coupon”). I like to get multiples of specific coupons. Depending on how valuable the coupon is (especially if it will make an item free), prices vary. You can often get multiples of 10 to 20 coupons for somewhere between $1.50 and $2. Shipping ranges from the price of a stamp to over $1 for a set of coupons. Those aren’t set prices, just a rough average of what I’ve seen.

Thecouponclippers.com
is another coupon service I’ve used. They’re pretty fast with shipping and have a pretty good selection. I also like that you can order just a few of each coupon that you want. They do have a minimum order, but it’s a pretty low amount ($3).

There are other coupons besides the ones in Sunday papers. Some of those are called blinkies, catalinas, and internet printables (IP’s). Blinkies are the coupons in the little boxes in the grocery store aisles. They have a tiny little light on them that blink to attract your attention. Most of the blinkies I’ve seen usually say Do Not Double on them (more on that later). Catalinas are the coupons that are printed when the cashier rings up your order.

Internet printables are just that – coupons you print from the internet. There are several sites where you can go to print them. I personally don’t use them very often for three reasons. One is because most of the time, there was a better coupon in the Sunday paper. Another reason is they’re often for items I don’t use (more on that later too). My third reason is stores around here are starting to either not accept them or they severely limit the number you can use.

Monday: Organizing coupons

Coupons – personal best

Since today was the last day of Harris Teeter’s triple coupons, I decided to stop in and see if anything was in stock. The other day there was hardly anything on my coupon list that was in stock, but today there was a good bit of the things I had been wanting to get.

I just blinked at the total when the cashier stopped entering coupons. Total due: $1.45. Wow. I’d expected it to be pretty low because I didn’t buy a whole lot, but this was far better than I expected.

For that $1.45, I bought:
3 boxes Huggies baby wipes (used a rain check from the last time they were on sale)
2 bags Grande tortilla chips
5 packets Ortega fajita seasoning
1 Suave deodorant

Those three tubs of baby wipes were worth the trip alone. And to be honest, they were my main reason for stopping in the store.

But getting so many items for so little – that was a real blessing.

For Michele

Michele posted earlier today, showing her love addiction for coffee. Actually, it was left over from her MOPS meeting, but I have no room to criticize. She showed five bottles of creamer in her frig. There are eight bottles in mine.

I thought I’d show her the inside of my frig, so she wouldn’t feel bad. This is the top shelf in the frig door.

lots of creamer from the last triple coupon sale

We normally only have one bottle of liquid creamer in the house. But last week was triple coupons, and the creamer was on sale, making it very cheap. So I stocked up. Stephen asked that I buy him some plain, so I did. Then I bought my favorite (French vanilla), and some caramel and white chocolate macadamia. The caramel is GREAT! I think it and the vanilla are tied for my favorite now. There’s also two more bottles in the back of the frig that aren’t in the picture.

I believe we’re set for a while now. This should last us until, oh, Christmas or so. Just kidding! We don’t drink THAT much coffee. We do drink quite a bit, but not THAT much. Although Annie would say differently, lol.

Though Stephen came home from work today with a HUGE container of decaf. Now I can drink coffee later in the day! Yay!

Coupon craziness

First of all, let me just say that I am immensely grateful for coupons and the stores that multiply them. That helps our grocery budget so much.

This week, Harris Teeter is doing a triple coupons promotion. I usually find out about these a week or so in advance, thanks to coupon forums like www.hotcouponworld.com and www.afullcup.com (I subscribe to the forums in a feed reader – so it doesn’t take long at all to skim post titles to read if a great event is coming). Harris Teeter’s rules are pretty simple. 20 coupons a day, and no more than 3 like coupons.

As usual, I ordered several batches of coupons off ebay. I get lots of 10 to 20 of the same coupon, and choose items that we either need, really like, or stockpile well. This time, I got coupons for meats, bread, sugar, etc.

I walked into the store this morning around 7:15. It had been my understanding that triples started at 7, so I thought the timing was pretty good. I passed some pretty upset-looking ladies on my way in. I could tell they were couponers because of part of the conversation I heard and the giant file box one of them was holding.

Once inside, I headed for the items I figured would sell out the fastest. To my surprise, the shelf was already almost empty! There were a couple left for me, so I went on.

A few minutes later, I heard a manager talking to some other employees about “we’ll beat them at their own game.” Great. . .trouble was brewing.

When I went to check out, I could see several carts full of coupon items and the really upset ladies were up front, and still just as upset. I’m not too sure what happened – it looked like they were trying to break the rules and got caught or something. Maybe they tried to do multiple trips and got stopped. Who knows. But they were MAD and it was plenty obvious.

It added fuel to something I’ve been pondering for a while now anyway. Just why do we coupon in the first place? Is it to have the biggest stockpile ever, and brag about it on the internet? Is it to see just how many of the same item we can get for free? Is it to see if we really can get $300 worth of merchandise for just $.02?

There’s nothing wrong with stockpiling – we’re getting more into that a little bit ourselves. We buy what we can when things go on sale, to hopefully last us until the next sale. It’s a great way to buy the things we usually use at the lowest price possible. But really, what average family can really eat 47 boxes of oatmeal before it goes bad? Or brownie mixes? Or sausage? Why do people feel the need to completely clean the grocery store shelves, just so they say they got a bargain? Whatever happened to being a considerate person?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not upset. But after what I saw today, I can’t help but wonder how many couponers are motivated by greed. I know it’s tempting when grabbing the best deals to get them all, but on the other hand, I want to be considerate. How many other moms are out there, hoping to get some good deals just to stretch their small grocery budget? If that’s MY motivation for going – surely I’m not the only one. It’s not like those stores are obligated to offer triples.

And about how I did – ring sausage for $.25, popcorn shrimp for just over $1 a box, 100% whole wheat bread for $.40 – made my trip totally worth it. I even got to get a couple new flavors of coffee creamer I’ve wanted to try. :O) Some of the things went right to stock the freezer a little bit, and some of the others were just a treat.

So tomorrow I’m hoping to head back up there for another run. I might be joining a lady from church. We’ll see. Showing someone how to do triple coupons is always fun!